Struggling to conceive is tough enough, but maintaining relationships while undergoing the ups and downs of fertility treatment has its own set of challenges.
At a glance
- A fertility journey can be emotionally and physically taxing, so building up a good support network is essential
- Forming relationships with your care providers is invaluable
- When tackling infertility as a couple, supporting your partner is key
Whether you’re one of the 15 per cent of Australian couples struggling to conceive, are in a same-sex relationship or single, the mix of emotions that accompanies the need for any type of assisted reproductive treatment can be intense and unexpected. While intervention can offer much-needed help and hope, the financial, emotional and physical stresses can bring with them feelings of frustration, uncertainty, anxiety and lack of confidence.
“Going through any form of fertility treatment can be taxing both emotionally and physically,” acknowledges Melbourne-based obstetrician, gynaecologist and fertility specialist Dr Joseph Sgroi. “Which is why it’s important to surround yourself with people who are going to support you through the process.”
For couples, this may mean involving your partner both physically and emotionally – inviting them to appointments, discussing options and tackling ‘what ifs’ together – and for singles, it’s about sharing your journey with your closest friends and family members. Sgroi also emphasises the importance of building up a strong relationship with your care providers. “The key is having a good support structure – with your doctor, but also with the team that supports them – counsellors, nurses and even scientists!”
Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions! And, talking through the experience with others can help.
When you’re playing a support role
When navigating the fertility journey, the majority of fertility treatment is undertaken by the woman, physically. However, both partners may experience psychological stress of different levels and at varying times throughout the treatment.
“Blokes in particular can feel a lot of isolation through the whole fertility journey, because some are only involved in such a small part,” warns Dr Sgroi. “It’s really important that both people are being supported throughout the whole process.”
Let’s not forget the added stress on relationships. There are two types of sex – reproductive sex and recreational sex. Make sure you’re having lots of recreational sex which may just turn into reproduction if it’s timed with ovulation.
With reproductive sex often evolving into something quite mechanical – “it can become a job!” says Sgroi – enjoyment, spontaneity and romance might be replaced with purpose, function and routine. This can be especially challenging when paired with feelings of disappointment, failure and even anger when intercourse doesn’t achieve conception.
Keep the following communication tools in mind when tackling a fertility journey as a couple:
- Make agreements around sex and intimacy in advance so it feels less rigid in the moment – for instance ‘during ovulation weeks we’ll have sex every other day’. A calendar can help
- Agree to set some fertility talk-free time. When it feels all-consuming, taking a ‘holiday’ from the topic – even for a few weeks – can be healthy
- Put a time limit on regular fertility-related discussions. This may just mean tackling part of the issue rather than having the same discussion every time you’re in a room together
- Make sure you take some time out to enjoy the life you have together now as a couple, rather than only looking to the future
Being aware of the way you communicate – both around sex, but also about fertility in general – is essential in dealing with the issues you may face. Still struggling to find that person to chat to?